Commentary: How to be realistic – and human – in this pandemic

By Jill Linden

I have read many times that the isolation and extra time created by the coronavirus situation could/should be used to accomplish great things:  Completing large, unfinished projects, or creating works of art or literature, etc.

For most people, that suggestion is unrealistic and even harmful. It takes a lot of mental energy to deal with anxiety caused by this coronavirus pandemic. Add to that the energy needed just to get through the day – preparing food, caring for family members and more. For most people, this takes every bit of their energy.

Jill Lindon

Here are some more realistic suggestions for this time:

When people are cooped up together in close quarters, it is very likely they will get on each others’ nerves. So:

• Try to go into different rooms.

• Go outdoors – several times a day if possible- even if it’s just walking in the backyard or down the block.

• Let yourself and your family watch more TV or movies than usual.

I read that this is a good time to try. elaborate new recipes. After all, most of us have more time. The reality is that time is not the issue – lack of mental energy and motivation can be problematic. So:

• Try to eat healthy, but enjoy what you eat.

• Also eat what you and your household consider comfort foods.

• Use carry-out foods from restaurants and other easy-to-prepare foods.

• Feel free to mix up when you have which foods. For example, cereal with fruit could be an easy and healthy dinner.

Falling asleep and staying asleep may be more difficult these days. Be sure that bedrooms are cool, dark, and quiet. For adults, keeping pen and paper by the bed and writing down your worries if you wake up during the night may be helpful. For children, you may need to try several techniques to see what helps. This could include a bath, bedtime story, nature movie, or soothing music. Even an older child may benefit from having covers tucked tightly around.

Almost all of us feel better when we help someone else. If you call someone living alone or drop off groceries for a neighbor, you will likely feel better and find your mental energy increases.

Electronic devices – phones and computers – can help us feel connected to others. However, using those can also increase anxiety and be sources of false information. You should monitor your own and your children’s use of these devices, and decide if limits might be appropriate.

A few people might write a book or do something else wonderful during this time. For most of us, though, doing whatever is necessary just to make each day OJ is all we should expect of ourselves. We should not feel guilty about what we don’t do.

If there are children in the household:

Assure them that this situation is not permanent Try to find out what worries and upsets them. Give them age-appropriate and realistic answers and expectations.

Example: A child who plays Litttle League baseball may be worrying about losing skills. Backyard or park practice should help this.

Example: A child who hears about older people dying may worry about her grandmother. You can tell her the specifics about what her grandmother is doing to be safe: staying at home, getting food delivered, etc. Use the phone or computer to show her that grandma is ok.

This is a terrible time for most people to have a birthday. For children, you should have a small family celebration and assure the child that a party with friends will come later.

A younger child may get mad at a parent because of what the child cannot do or get at this time. Young children often think that their parents are all-powerful and in complete control of what happens. Therefore, they may not believe you when you tell them that the governor says you cannot go somewhere or that the store was out of a child’s favorite ice cream. Maybe the best you can do in such a situation is to distract the child. Fortunately, most young children have short attention spans and may forget about the issue after watching a favorite movie.

Children may get unusually upset about something that seems unimportant and that would not usually bother them. They may not realize that being “on edge”  about the coronavirus is causing this. You could say something like “we sometimes get upset about little things when we are already worrying about the virus.”

After the restrictions end:

When we finally are able to go to restaurants and stores, parks and beaches, don’t get angry at yourself for what you DIDN’T accomplish during your isolation. Try to be pleased about what you figured out to do that helped you get through it.

Don’t expect the anxiety to disappear overnight, and don’t expect to be exactly the same as you were before.

You will have to adjust to a ” new normal.” Some businesses will close or change. Just hearing someone cough might make you anxious.

Most people will adapt OK over time. However, if you are still not doing well again after 2-3 months, you should consider consulting a mental health professional. Many of them now have, and will continue to have, counseling sessions available by computer.

Jill Linden Ph. D. is a retired psychologist who resides in Harbeson.